Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Invisible Classics... In Nollywood? This Millenium?

I shamelessly stole this topic from Jeremy's Blog, but we can pretend he emailed the article to me as his first contribution to The Afro Beat :-)

The excerpts below are from an article by the BFI (which I presume is the British Film Institute? Correct me if I'm wrong J). The article exhalts the impressive and surprisingly long-running history of African cinema, and snubs (rightly I believe, but feel free to argue with me) Nigerian cinema completely.

Question: (its long, so please try not to get lost)

Nigeria is purportedly the base of the 3rd largest film industry in the world. Nollywood is despised by many, and adored by just as many, and its viewers extend beyond the cities of Nigeria to the country's hinterlands, its neighbours in Africa, other countries in the Caribbean, Asia etc. The Afro Beat so far has discussed the problems plaguing Nigeria, the roots of which, appear to lie in the mind-set/mentality/psyche of the Nigerian. Is it possible to argue that this mind-set manifests itself even in something as frivolous as our film industry, in which $$$ (i.e. quantity) seems to be the driver, rather than quality?

Does the new breed of movies like "Amazing Grace" (you know the one... Fred Amata and 3 white guys on the poster?) spell a wind of change for Nollywood? Will special effects and an actual plot or sense of direction become the norm in the future? Or will the majority of film producers continue to ignore the potential diamond-mine at their fingertips in favour of producing the trashy million-naira-making "home videos"?


"African Cinema: Invisible Classics" by Mark Cousins

In this mental shadowland [Africa] lies a world of cinema: film-makers as significant as Martin Scorsese, as discrepant as Orson Welles; imagery as mythic as that of Sergei Paradjanov or Nicolas Roeg; life stories with the amplitude of Francis Ford Coppola's. These are films from a continent three times the size of the US, with more than 50 countries, over 1,000 languages, and nearly 300 film-makers in the Francophone territories alone. Many of us know something about Ousmane Sembène or Djibril Diop Mambéty...

Ousmane Sembène started as a bricklayer, became a Citroën factory worker and eventually a novelist... From 1966's La Noire de..., through the hilarious Xala in 1974, Sembène tackled gender. In Camp de Thiaroye (1988) he tracked the tirailleurs senegalais, the black African troops who fought for French colonial armies. Ceddo was ballsy in 1976, but consider its theme now: the arrival of Islam in 19th-century West Africa. Like Euro-Christianity, it brings violence and forces compliance; its advocates are fanatics, blind to cultural freedoms. The film ends with the local Wolof princess shooting an imam....

In Mauritania in 1970 Med Hondo had made Soleil O, the first, greatest, incandescent film about African immigrants. Safi Faye's feature debut, the first film by a black African woman, was the beautiful Letter from My Village (Senegal, 1975).

In the same year Algeria won the Palme d'Or at Cannes with Mohamed Lakhdar-Hamina's Chronicle of the Years of Embers, shot on 70mm. Still in 1975, Hailé Gerima's Godardian Harvest: 3,000 Years not only put Ethiopia on the film-making map but, with lines like "Is there anywhere in the world where there are no flies or Europeans?", turned African cinema white hot...

[We must not] leave out Senegalese man of the theatre-turned-director Djibril Diop Mambéty... At the age of 28 he made a caustic road movie, Touki Bouki (1973), Africa's equivalent of Easy Rider or A bout de souffle... Mambéty, like his polar-opposite Dakar visionary Sembène, was calling forth a here-and-nowness for Africa, a cubist, layered modernity, a filiation untouched by revenge but bustling with recovery...

[In the 1980s] Senegal was still a centre but Burkina Faso and Mali came to the fore. Their film-makers asked new questions: not ‘What do we do now that the colonisers have gone?' but ‘What were we like before they arrived?' The Maghreb film-makers of the north and the black African masters Sembène, Mambéty and Hondo were joined by three new directors of world class: Burkina Faso's Gaston Kaboré and Idrissa Ouédraogo, and Mali's Souleymane Cissé....

I watched my first African film, Yeelen, in 1990 and it changed my taste in cinema... I began to see what a feast African cinema in the 1990s was turning out to be. In the Maghreb, Morocco's Mohamed Abderrahman Tazi made the delightful comedy Looking for My Wife's Husband (1994). Tunisia fired out Férid Boughedir's Halfaouine (1990), about a 12-year-old boy negotiating the difference between female and male culture as he becomes a man; Moncef Dhouib's bleak semi-response to Boughedir's film, The Sultan of the City (1992); and Moufida Tlatli's The Silences of the Palace (1994). And from Algeria came Merzak Allouache's Bab El-Oued City (1994). These last five all challenge the reactionary elements of Islam."


I counted well over 8 African countries in Cousins' article, with dates of movies stemming from as early as 1970. Nollywood, several decades behind, only began to make waves in the middle to late 1990s. Even so, has it yet challenged anything? Or ever made anyone contemplate anything beyond the realm of black magic, forbidden love, thuggery, or extreme misfortune and subsequent happiness after a dramatic conversion to Christianity?

Is Nollywood even trying to keep up with its remarkable African predecessors we've just learnt about in Cousins' article? Or (as I asked at the beginning) is it all just about raking in the $$$ right here and right now?
What is HE supposed to be? A medieval chief?

Monday, February 19, 2007

"The Politics of Nigerian Corruption" by Alex Last

This article talks about the EFCC and its fight against corruption. I'm sure most of you heard about the Graft List that was released a few weeks ago with the names of about 135 politicians considered too corrupt to be allowed to run in any elections.

Here was our (Lagosians that is) Governor Tinubu's response to his name's appearance on the list: "I don't know when I was investigated.
Nobody has questioned me. It is part of the political calculation of Mr President to fight, and intimidate his political enemies. He wants to create confusion. He does not want the election to hold. How can EFCC indict somebody who was never contacted, formally accused and formally investigated?... EFCC cannot be the investigator, the prosecutor and the court at the same time. It is full-blown dictatorship that we are having in the country...We know the president is putting pressure on INEC to disqualify the VP, the power INEC does not have. The President is after Atiku. EFCC put other people's names just to make the whole thing credible. We know our lives are in danger because of Atiku."

As I heard someone phrase it the other day: If person A is arrested for corruption while similarly-corrupt person B will never get arrested, does that make A any less guilty? Or is the problem here the hypocrisy (too strong a word?) of it all: that a body in charge of eliminating corruption appears to be not so void of "tampering" itself? Pray tell...


Nigeria is ranked as one of the most corrupt countries in the world. Daily, low-level corruption is visible on the street; policeman extorting money from motorists to supplement their meagre wages.

But it is in the world of politics and government, where corruption has been most damaging. For decades the government has accrued huge oil revenues, yet the country suffers from a lack of basic infrastructure, and tens of millions live in poverty.
At the same time, some politicians and their business associates have amassed personal fortunes. Although accusations of graft have long been a feature of Nigerian politics, as elections approach early next year, the politics of corruption have taken on a new powerful role.


For the past four years, the fight against corruption in Nigeria has been embodied in the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, (EFCC) and its Chairman Nuhu Ribadu - a 46-year-old senior police officer.

The agency has had some successes, and Mr Ribadu has been praised both at home and abroad. The EFCC says in the past two years it has recovered more than $5bn and has successfully prosecuted 82 people. It has taken on internet crime and fraudsters. It has gone after a former chief of police, a government minister and an impeached state governor.

But despite highly publicised raids and investigations, when it comes to prosecutions, it is usually the lower level officials, businessmen and fraudsters who end up being convicted. In part that is because some political offices, such as state governors and the president, carry immunity from prosecution. But as election campaigns get under way, President Olusegun Obasanjo has declared that he will use all legal means to stop "criminals and crooks" from taking the reigns of power in Nigeria.

In a recent interview, Mr Ribadu pledged to stop corrupt politicians running for office. "Things are improving marginally now. But if you bring somebody who is a thief, they will feast on this money and take Nigeria to what it was before."


But the anti-corruption agency is persistently accused of only going after opponents of President Obasanjo, a charge Mr Ribadu denies.

As elections approach, new EFCC investigations and the accusations of political bias, are coming thick and fast. Perhaps in response, the agency recently raided the offices of the new Nigerian corporation, Transcorp, which has close links to the president. But one raid is unlikely to satisfy the critics.


Privately, supporters of Mr Ribadu say he is going after those he is allowed to, while building up dossiers on others who, for now, are "protected".

...More generally, a lot will depend on the government-appointed electoral commission, which has the responsibility of screening candidates and deciding if they are technically allowed to stand. If they decide to bar any of the big candidates from the race, either at the state or national level, there is the risk it would provoke violence. This would be particularly dangerous in a country, which after decades of military rule, is struggling to keep ethnic and religious divisions in check.


Talking to people on the street in Lagos, many are supportive, and wryly amused by the idea that the top politicians would disqualify themselves by accusing each other of corruption.

People are desperate to see Nigerian politics cleaned up and very few politicians are considered to be clean. Ultimately that is the real dilemma. In a country where corruption is seen as endemic, an anti-corruption campaign used selectively as a political weapon is likely to provoke a bitter fight amongst the political elite.
And that in turn, could impact on Nigeria's pre-election stability.

Alex Last is a BBC News correspondent for Lagos. Lagos

Friday, February 16, 2007


Nothing spectacular, as far as I know, happened in 1951. Margaret Jeffries, a British woman, lived in Nigeria for a year, wrote in her diary and took pictures of some of the things she saw. Her (sometimes genuinely amusing and other times not so amusing) observations shed light on the relationship between coloniser/colonised, the political oppression and aspiration, the racism, the British superiority complex, the Nigerian inferiority complex, the Black man's desire to please, and a host of other things.

Excerpts from her diary
(With random photographs interspersed...)

Large king lizards live in garden and on balcony... When they are angry their colours get brighter... Each has his own territory and chases away intruders. Sometimes they fight, knocking each other with their tails. Some people in Abeokuta had a tame lizard which would come when they called Freddy. But one day Freddy had a fight and got killed and the victorious lizard who usurped his territory is quite untameable.

The men say the barman, Thompson, comes from a cannibal district and they wouldn't like to meet him in the Bush when he was hungry. Cannibalism is still practiced in remote districts.

I also bought a man's embroidered cap. This was a cheap one... It is made of an old sugar bag embroidered in shiny green and orange rayon. Others... bore the words “Tate and Lyle” or “Fine Sugar” revealing their origin. This adds to their value and they fetch a higher price than unstamped ones... It is not only the proletariat who like an English trademark. We met a village headman, whose white robe was draped to display a large blue stamp “20 yards. Made in England”. He probably thought this added more distinction than the beautiful hand embroidery at neck and hem.

Today I achieved a life-long ambition – to go to shop with a little black boy trotting behind to carry my purchases, a la elegant lady of Queen Anne's time.

Lagos cinemas are all open to the sky. In the two-and-sixes you sit up on a balcony on wicker chairs, with an awning overhead. The groundlings in the ninepennies sit on hard forms and have no shelter from the rain. Their reactions were the same as their white counterparts in England. They warned the hero of impending peril and applauded when right triumphed over wrong.

We drove out to Paiye where the District Chief, Dauda Paiye, a tall fine-looking man, received us ceremoniously. Where a European politely removes his hat, an African removes his shoes. We noticed Paiye was wearing embroidered heelless slippers. His servant removed these and he squatted down in front of us and touched the ground with his knuckles. After a few polite remarks had been exchanged he rose up, his servant put on his shoes, and he and his retinue conducted us to see the pond.

The Malete policeman came and looked at my watch, set his own by it and then went to check the watches of his colleague of Elemere and the two chiefs. Having set the official time for two villages, I only hope my watch was right, but it wouldn't matter very much if it wasn't. Time is not of much account here. The opening lines of Walter de la Mare's new poem “Winged Chariot” might almost be an African's question to a European:- “Why this absurd concern with clocks my friend?"

As well as the large pan of rice on her head nearly every woman coming to the mill carried a piccin strapped on her back. These little black babies with their woolly topknots are lovely, though to European eyes their beauty is marred by the barbarous habit of slashing their faces soon after birth in patterns according to the markings of their tribe. The little girl piccins, however tiny, wear jewellery, invariably ear rings, often necklaces and bracelets... On the arm of one small mite I noticed a man's wristwatch on a wide chromium strap. It was not only going, but told the correct time. Unlike their bigger brothers and sisters the babies seemed scared of us. I suppose it is quite natural for a white person to look like a bogey, to a black baby.

I asked what it was and it turned out to be a song in praise of ZIK, Dr Azikiwi, the political leader, head of NCNC (National Council of Nigeria and Cameroons). He is an Ibo, like “the boys”, and a fierce nationalist. He wants a united Nigeria, combining all tribes, and is anti-European. The main opposition to his party comes from the ACTION GROUP of strong Yoruba influence, which is less anti-British and seems to advocate regional autonomy for Hausas, Yorubas, Ibos, and other main tribes.

I can't help thinking that it is better for themselves and for Africa, if all people with a strong unshakeable colour prejudice were to keep out. Gratuitous rudeness on the part of white people, gives the rabid nationalist a legitimate grievance and may make otherwise reasonable types into rabid nationalists themselves, thus driving yet another nail into the coffin of the poor old British Empire.

This was a great [football match] attended by the Governor's Deputy – the G being on leave – and the local Oba, in state. Immediately behind us sat the famous ZIK with wife, a girl friend, to whom he explained at length the finer points of the game all through the match. It was an exciting game. When the whistle went for time the score was even, 2 all. There was a twenty minute extension during which Railway scored the winning goal. Their victory was a well-deserved triumph of brains over brawn. The Plateau team were taller and heavier and looked quite a different type, possibly Pagans. Their supporters among whom we found ourselves, looked a real tough crowd, including mining types. The audience was orderly and good-humoured, though policemen with truncheons were there in force.
Do we think she was someone "important"?

The Photographs in order:
1 - 22 Cameron Road, Ikoyi
2 - Broad Street
3 - Marina
4 - The Creek from Obalende Bridge
5 - Victoria Beach
6 - Margaret Jeffries

Thursday, February 15, 2007

"ABC, How Dare You?" by Oluseyi Sonaiya

Several members of The Afro Beat watched this documentary. We flinched at the derogatory comments, and were unsure how to respond or react, and so we did nothing. Unknowingly, we adopted the attitude spoken out against in Tuesday's post by Reuben Abati, who said, "if democracy must serve our purpose, the cynicism of the people must be brought to an end through due recognition of their relevance to the development process." Abati, as you may remember, also went on to ask the question - "Will this result from an evolutionary or a revolutionary intervention?"

Oluseyi Sonaiya lives in New York, and is a member of The Afro Beat. He sent the following letter to ABC's 20/20, the New York Times and a variety of Nigerian and pan-African news organizations.


In his recent report for ABC's 20/20 (Friday, December 8, 2006), Brian Ross carelessly characterizes the attitudes of Nigerians, suggesting that the advance fee fraud is, I quote, "so widely accepted that there is a hit song celebrating ..." the scam. In his report, Mr. Ross says that the scam "industry" involves thousands of mostly young men - this in a country with a population north of 150 million people - yet he sees it as "so widely accepted."

Particularly bothersome is his description of Lagos as a "corrupt, crime-ridden disgrace of a city." How dare you, Mr. Ross? A disgrace?! In what way is Lagos - which, incidentally, describes a state, in the context in which Mr. Ross uses it - any more corrupt than New York or Washington, D.C.? Like those two it is a highly populated center of industry, attracting newcomers from less industrialized areas of the country seeking gainful employment. Like those two it is overpopulated, taxing resources and infrastructure, meager as they are, beyond their limits. Consequently, like New York and Washington, D.C., there is a fair amount of crime, much of it born of poverty and desperation, though sustained by greed.

The true problems of Nigeria are hardly ever identified in these various "exposés" and "special reports." Instead Nigeria is painted as casually corrupt, as though avarice were a choice willingly made by the majority of Nigerians. The desperate poverty of the majority of the populace, thanks to decades of mismanagement by military dictatorships and veritable plundering by multinational corporations such as Shell Petroleum, who along with competitors Chevron and Mobil have collectively helped to devastate the traditional fishing waters of the Ogoni people in their search for crude oil, means that there is a shortage of opportunity for the bright, hardworking and industrious young people of Nigeria. Those who are not able to secure jobs then do what their kind have always done - they turn to crime.

We are asked to sympathize with gullible Americans who fell for second-grade quality schemes due to their own greed, but in the same breath, we are asked to vilify equally greedy Nigerians?

What is most embarrassing to an ostensible news gathering organization like ABC is that the local economy in Nigeria is tremendously improved. Communications infrastructure, in the form of cost effective GSM cellular telephones, is spreading like wildfire, while the relative stability of eight years of democratic rule and a hopeful forthcoming smooth transition are gradually restoring facilities. Nigeria is making its own way out of poverty through almost entirely internal means, but this doesn't register on the radar of the ABC News organization. Only scandal and disaster matter to them, and they will, at least in the form of Mr. Ross and his team, summarily dismiss the whole on the basis of the part.

That is the real "disgrace."

Oluseyi Sonaiya
Brooklyn, NY


The following is a charge to Nigerians, Africans and black peoples universal by Oluseyi:

"Realize that this is neither a coincidence nor an error. In particular, it is NOT FUNNY. Too many Africans are so Eurocentric that they will laugh at their own being insulted, like the nerd desperate to hang out with the jocks who sees their abuse of himself as "just joking." The insidious attitude expressed in actions and words like these is the inherent inferiority, criminality and unworthiness of the African. The objective is to denigrate us, and by extension to denigrate all those of African descent. Reject it. Fight it. Do NOT tolerate it."

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

"Fact or Fiction" by Kome Ajegbo

Kome is a student at Stanford University, and she is a member of The Afro Beat. She sent us this link to a This Day newspaper article on Friday - Its really worth having a look at, if you can.

But for the lazy ones amongst us ;-P here is a snippet of MEND's response to the CNN documentary aired last week.

"On Monday January 22, 2007, we were approached by Mr. Jeff Koinange... He requested we stage some scenes for a very important CNN programme which was supposed to air in the first week of February. We stated clearly we would not be disposed to fit into his tight schedule. Our struggle is much more to us than parading before everyone willing to film fighters.... What CNN has presented as the truth to its unsuspecting viewers, is a collection of thugs, pirates and bunkerers put together by Jeff Koinange and CNN to meet up with the deadline given to Mr. Koinange by his editors in CNN. It is far from the truth. The band of criminals paraded by CNN as MEND have nothing to do with MEND... It is astonishing that a network of high repute such as CNN would descend this low in its search for a sensational story. We are reluctant to release our correspondence with Mr. Koinange but will circulate this if our claims are refuted."

We asked Kome to share her response to this turn of events, with The Afro Beat, and she kindly agreed to do so.


Fact or Fiction

Whenever I hear of a crisis, disaster or anything with the title "breaking news", my knee jerk reaction is to tune into CNN or Sky News. Not because I have been told that they are the best, but because I believe that they are the best at what they do. Yes there is a difference between the two - the difference between telling a story first and articulately, versus telling the story a little later without having to make any revisions to it. CNN falls into the first category for me because I like facts as quickly as possible, but I often have to chew through the sometimes-outlandish opinions to decipher my own.

After watching the CNN documentary on the Niger-Delta last week, my reaction on hearing the analysis of the MEND solution, left me feeling rather dejected - not because Nigeria was once again warranting publicity (good or bad... this case is debatable), but because we as a country have left many of our citizens to lead such desperate and pathetic lives.

I didn’t for a second doubt the authenticity of the footage of the MEND militants or of the Niger-Delta region, but as usual I was very critical of the view points expressed.

Two days later, I read an article in This Day Newspapers, expressing disgust and dismay at the false portrayal of the MEND organization by CNN. The allegation that the footage was staged at the request of CNN boggles my mind, and has left me questioning not only CNN, but the indigenous Nigerians who were a part of this folly.

To what lengths will media corporations, or desperate Niger-Deltans go to get their message across? What matters more - the message or the messenger? I wish I had the energy to follow up on CNN and write complaints or demand some form of public apology, but although that's a great idea in principle, what about the real issue at hand?

While we spend time discussing the gravity of CNN's actions, are we to also question Thisday, MEND, the MEND imposters,etc; or are we to put this down in the books as a shameful act, and steer on towards solving a problem so great that it has led to such deception?

Trust in the media is something that I have come to realize is a very dangerous thing. The media should not be there to tell us what to think or, matter of factly, how to think. It is the responsibility of any journalist through its network to relay the facts, and this is where it often gets complicated. Relaying the facts is easy enough, but how one passes along this information is what sets aside NTA from AIT, or Sky from CNN. Sensational News is what keeps the media in business and the $$ rolling in. It is also what keeps us tuned in. So, WHO therefore is to blame when they go too far?

To be clear, there are two important issues that I would like The Afro Beat to discuss...

1. What is the role of the media, both locally and internationally, and where do your loyalties lie?

2. Does it matter that CNN had to fabricate such an encounter to get the message across that the people of the Niger-Delta are suffering, even if it is shining a brighter light on a great injustice?


Thanks Kome!

Monday, February 12, 2007

A New Approach

"A whole neeew wooooorld"

Ekaaro, Bonjour, Kedu, Etcetera Etceteroo... Hope everyone had a good weekend?

To all "silent revolutionaries" out there ;-P we wanted to thank you for participating thus far by accepting the invitation (not everyone we invited did, so thank you sooo much). We also wanted to say that we understand how time-consuming it can be to read long articles, and how daunting it can be to compose a response to be shared with others who seem to know a helluva lot more about a subject than you do.

We're working on a website at the moment which will allow more participation from all members, in terms of project ideas/articles/video clips you want to share, and all sorts of things. We feel The Afro Beat should be a community under the umbrella of which groups of you can get together to pursue one project or the other that you are passionate about. For example, you may be passionate about working with children or with health care or AIDS or alleviating poverty or education. We want you to be able to use The Afro Beat to link up with others with similar passions to yours, who may not even be in your part of the globe, but who will exchange ideas with you and encourage you to push on with your initiatives.

When the website is up, we will be able to provide you with the diversity you've demanded by (a) your silence on the Blog ;-P and (b) your private comments to us. But for now we ask that you pleeeease be patient with us, as working from a Blog has really restricted our plans for The Afro Beat. We have found ourselves having to cope with being nothing more than a talkshop, which was not at all the main aim of The Afro Beat.

To adjust to the fact that for the timebeing we will have to make do with being a talkshop, in its 2nd week (the best time to make changes ey?), The Afro Beat is taking on a slightly different approach. We've come up with what we hope is a more interesting way of diversifying the issues we put up for discussion every day. For the moment we're suggesting covering one of these areas per day of the week:

1 - A member's commentary on an issue (in the news currently, or otherwise)

(This week we're starting with Kome's perspective on MEND's disclaiming of the Koinange Interview. Bravo Kome for stepping up to the plate! Hehe!)

2 - An article (like the ones put up last week) that is either relevant to the 2007 Elections, or is a member's or journalist's reflection on the mistakes of the outgoing regime

3 - A profile on any dynamic individual in the music, literary or revolutionary fields

(Possibilites are Ken Saro Wiwa, Fela Kuti, Omotola Jalade [Did anyone know she was a U.N. Goodwill Ambassador??], Sefi Atta, Okonji-Iweala, Wole Soyinka, even randomers like Majek Fashek [where the *bleep* is HE now?])

4 - A critical event in Nigeria's past and its impact on Nigeria today

(Possible topics at the moment are June 12, The Biafran War [Its different phases - the Igbo coup, the Northern revolt, the war, the aftermath], Independence in 1960, The Slave Trade etc)

5 - Any other thing that comes our way (if it fits in with the general direction of The Afro Beat of course)

Please "Boo" or "Yaay" any of these ideas in the comments section. We really need to hear back from all of you so that we can get the direction of this Blog right (whilst we wait on our website). The Afro Beat will still be the place to come for constructive debate about ways to move Nigeria forward, but we just feel this needs to be done in a less intimidating and more diverse atmosphere. Let us know what you think about this new approach - ABEG leave a comment -------->

P.S. If you know a good/cheapish website designer --->

Friday, February 9, 2007

"Playing With Fire" by Olusegun Adeniyi

Here is a profile on Asari-Dokubo (the subject of Olusegun Adeniyi's article) published by the BBC in 2004. Does the rationale of Adeniyi apply to MEND as it does to Asari-Dokubo? Are they viewed as being one and the same? And should they be viewed as being one and the same in light of the Koinange (CNN) vs. MEND transcript we published below? What does everyone think?

Many thanks to Nkemka for drawing this article to our attention. In it, a lot of mention is made of the role Obasanjo has played in this crisis, added to which is even more detail about what his role should in fact have been. On another dimension the article eludes elements of sympathy and understanding for the causes of Mujahid Asari Dokubo and other "terrorists" alike. It is unclear whether this sympathy extends to MEND. Is anyone able to offer up more insight into the issues underlying the Niger Delta crisis? What is the best peaceful avenue for tackling this problem? Through the Government? (Federal? Or State?) Or through the oil companies? Are the Niger Delta groups so overrun with corruption in themselves that one should dismiss them as being undeserving of cooperation?

Feel free to send an email to The Afro Beat inbox if you've formed an opinion on this issue that you would like other members of The Afro Beat to assess with you on the Blog and develop. Its very important that as a group we develop a set of cohesive ideas even though we can't avoid differences of opinion.


Playing With Fire

... After my interactions with top guns in our oil and gas industry who operate in the dangerous terrain, I came away with the firm conclusion that the future of Nigeria depends on how we handle the Niger Delta tragedy. But what shocked me more was that oil workers, who are at the receiving end of the activities of the militants, seem to sympathise with the frustrations of Niger Delta youths...

[A top multi-national company] official, like many of his other colleagues, all senior oil men, said the [militants] have a genuine case to sell. "Just look at the Niger Delta and all you see is poverty and criminal neglect and you can check the 2007 budget, the proposed spending from the excess crude account and the miserly amount allocated to development in the zone.

In another contribution, a participant said: "The militants have not stopped taking hostages, in the process some are left dead while others are released on payment of a huge ransom." Coming from a senior official of a multinational company which operates in the region, that is a confirmation that huge sums of money now change hands between the oil companies and these militants before hostages are released and one can now see the real danger in that the more money in the hands of the militants, the more arms they also are able to procure while the vicious cycle continues.

While most of what goes on in the Niger Delta today in the name of militancy is actually criminality masquerading as agitation, government neglect has more or less given legitimacy to the activities of the growing army of mercenaries who live off illegal bunkering and now, kidnapping, for ransom. And it is that neglect which provides a fertile ground for the fire that would come if we are not careful. It is against this background that one considers it unfortunate that the Tuesday stakeholders meeting meant to deliberate on the insecurity of oil workers and vandalisation of oil pipelines failed to hold because President Olusegun Obasanjo could not attend “due to pressing state matters”.

According to the Labour Minister, the president was "unavoidably absent. But he is here with us in spirit. Insecurity in the Niger Delta is insecurity in Nigeria”. Just what does that mean, that the 'spirit' of the president is what we now need to resolve the fundamental problem in Niger Delta?

Reacting to Obasanjo’s absence at the stakeholders meeting, PENGASSAN president, Peter Esele, stated “we are very, very disappointed. This is not what we bargained for. This is not why we are here. When the President finishes with the other pressing state matters, we are here. The issues in the Niger Delta have assumed a political dimension which only the political muscle of the President can handle.” Fortunately, that meeting will hold this morning. Those expected to attend include the Governors of Akwa Ibom, Rivers, Delta and Bayelsa States as well as the Ministers of Energy and Labour. Others are the NNPC Group Managing Director, Chief Executives of the major oil companies in the country, security chiefs and representatives of NUPENG and PENGASSAN.

The timing of the meeting could not be more auspicious for the president in view of the insinuation in town, and many were saying it yesterday in Port Harcourt, that he wants an explosion in the Niger Delta so he could stay on in power; a way of securing from the creeks what the National Assembly refused to offer him in Abuja. While that sort of conspiracy theory sounds far fetched, the recent allegation by Atiku, which has been denied by the military, of a $2 billion arms purchase to suppress people of the region, worsens his case. It does not sound credible but that such disclosure would come from the number two citizen has been unhelpful to put the situation mildly. Now, what we need are practical solutions that would help douse the tension.

As we have continued to argue, the Niger Delta needs massive federal government intervention while political, rather than military, solution is what is needed at this critical period. That, I suppose is the idea behind today's meeting. But if past efforts are any guide, the session would not achieve any meaningful result if the president continued with his hard-line posture. For instance, one of the issues that must be sorted out is the fate of Asari-Dokubo. The federal government must recognise that treason has always been a political charge and very difficult to prove while the continued attempts to perpetually keep the militant leader in detention will resolve nothing...

I do believe that [Asari-Dokubo] can still be tamed if the federal government is ready to listen to the voice of reason that keeping the militant leader in detention causes more harm than good. And that it is better to accommodate him in a negotiation in which he can be useful in ultimately disarming the militants. Of course, this can only happen after the government must have accepted to intervene positively to address the problems of neglect that have for decades been the bane of the region. The question now is: will president Obasanjo seize the moment or will he continue with his posture that will achieve no meaningful result?

Unfortunately, the last time a delegation of Ijaw Elders and Leaders Forum visited him in Abuja to seek Dokubo's release, Obasanjo could not seize the moment to extract some commitments from them while shunning their demand. That respected community leaders from the Niger Delta would go to Aso Rock to seek the release of Asari-Dokubo should have signaled to the president that in the region, the militant leader is not perceived as a criminal but a hero of sort hence their concerns about his travails.

Against the foregoing, today's meeting therefore offers another window of opportunity to come up with fundamental solutions to problems that would just not go away. I also hope it does not become another boring session with our president lecturing everybody on what they must do. But not what he should do.
Yet on this vexatious Niger Delta issue, the buck stops on the president's table.


Olusegun Adeniyi is a columnist for This Day

MEND - They Need No Introduction

Thanks to everyone who commented on yesterday's post. As Nam and Jeremy identified, The Afro Beat needs to decide on the direction in which its headed. There clearly is a great desire for debate and increased understanding of Nigeria's issues amongst our members, and hopefully with a little more time this will evolve into a clear set of action plans through which to make a difference.

Nkemka has been demanding discussion on the Niger Delta, and in light of the interviews with MEND broadcast on CNN this evening, we've had no choice but to give in. We couldn't get hold of the CNN video footage on MEND aired yesterday. But below is the transcript.


Koinange: "Big Guns, Big Oil, Collide in Nigeria"

WARRI, Nigeria
-- Splashing across the murky waters of southern Nigeria in a speedboat, I suddenly found myself in one of the scariest positions of my journalistic career: masked militants firing machine guns at me and my crew.

We hit the deck, shouting, "We are press! We are press!" Eventually, the bullets stopped flying and the gunmen approached our boat, demanding to know who we were.

As I stared down the barrels of some very big guns, being held by angry young men, I began to have doubts about our trip here. (Watch menacing rebels try to intimidate CNN crew )

The waters are so dangerous in these parts that the Nigerian navy doesn't even dare patrol the region. In a word, it's a no-go zone for outsiders.

"How many times do you people come here with your cameras and nothing is done? We don't want you guys to come here again," one of the gunmen shouted.

But we weren't about to leave so easily.

I had been given permission to come to the region from the militants themselves to find out what is happening in the Niger Delta, where the well-armed militants have been fighting Nigeria's beleaguered armed forces over oil. (Read more about the militants' battle)

These guys in their intimidating black outfits and matching black ski masks looked like any army's worst nightmare. And that's exactly what they've become: Nigeria's worst nightmare.

They call themselves the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta, or MEND. They insist what they're trying to do is mend what they say is the unequal distribution from the profits Nigeria gets from its oil bonanza. (Gallery: See what the militants look like up close)

Nigeria is Africa's largest oil producer. In 2005, it was the world's sixth largest exporter of oil, but the conflict there has cut distribution by an estimated 500,000 barrels per day, the U.S. Department of Energy said in November.

Very little of the profits makes it back to Nigeria, and even less makes it down to the mangrove swamps of the Niger Delta.

As a result, MEND in recent months has escalated its struggle, kidnapping expatriate oil workers at an alarming rate (more than 30 in the last month alone), indiscriminately killing Nigerian military forces, and carrying out attacks on oil installations in the region that cut the flow of oil dramatically.

Hostages paraded before my eyes.

Now, as guns pointed at me, I explained we had been given permission for them to take us to their leader. They laughed me off, saying their leader doesn't talk to anyone, especially journalists.

But they agreed to take us to one of their hideouts and show us something no Western journalist had seen: dozens of MEND militants in black dancing and chanting themselves into a trance. Some pointed their guns menacingly at us; others simply tried to intimidate us.

It was MEND military might for the whole world to see. And they told me this is just a fraction of their forces. They claimed to have more than 200,000 troops spread across an area the size of Texas. (Interactive: See where the Niger Delta is located)

As the militants danced, they displayed their latest hostages: 24 Filipino sailors captured on January 20 as their cargo ship tried to take turn into the port of Warri. (Watch the rebels show off their hostages )

It is the largest number of foreign hostages ever captured here at a single time. The Filipinos seemed dazed and confused, their nerves wearing thin as they struggled to come to terms with a fight they said they have no clue about.

The militants fired into the air. The hostages flinched. I thought there was going to be an execution in front of us -- and I'm sure the hostages thought the same thing.

'Our fight is against everybody'

After about an hour, the militants agreed to take me to their leader. They said that due to his superstitions, we could only interview him out in the middle of the creeks and they took us back out into the water.

A short while later, he appeared, accompanied by a small army of heavily armed bodyguards.

He described himself as "Major General Tamuno," the field commander of MEND. He spoke softly through the slits of his black ski mask.

"MEND is a struggle for the liberation of the Niger Delta, the most devastated and the most threatened region in the world," he said.

"Our fight is against everybody -- every institution that don't want the people of the Niger Delta to have their fair share."

I learned this militant leader has a degree in political science from a local university, but he couldn't find work after college. Many of his men are the same -- educated and frustrated.

He told me foreigners working in Nigeria's oil sector should get out now.

"We will take lives, we will destroy lives, we will crumble the economy," he said bluntly.

And with that, the interview was suddenly over.

We were escorted back out into open waters by a convoy of speedboats. As we were about to leave, one of the masked gunmen reissued his group's threats.

"If they don't listen, well, maybe Nigeria will go into pieces. We don't know how many pieces it will go into, but the federal government will not be in peace unless they listen to us," he said.

And just like that, they were off -- speedboats spluttering in the water, gunfire echoing into the crisp afternoon air and, before we'd even put down our gear, the militants were gone.


As a way to get the ball rolling, we're also introducing the American perspective. From comes the reaction of one Average American Joe to the Koinange expose' aired yesterday:

"[Yet] another example of how force seems to be used in order to get their word across. I mean really there is no excuse for their is terrorism and they should be dealt [with] as such...negotiating with them would be like saying your opinion and ways matter to us, and we might as well pat Al Qaeda on the back too!"


Let's get to talking people! There are no "silent partners" in the 'Revolutionary' business :-)

Thursday, February 8, 2007

"Look Both Ways Then Give Fair Judgment" by Nam Mokwunye

As a way of consolidating the debate of the last couple of days, we're introducing this list of the merits and demerits of the OBJ administration for you to consider. This was orginally written by Nam in an email to Misan after, I believe, the two engaged in a rather heated exchange... I'm sure you know already which side Misan was on :-P
Anyway, Nam kindly agreed to let us use his email for the benefit of The Afro Beat, and I have a feeling Derin will be happy to see many of his references laid out here.


It’s quite easy to become an “arm-chair quarterback or politician or president”—primarily because we suffer few consequences. Because of that, it’s easy for us to judge the president’s administration—partially rather than comprehensively. I would encourage that we resist this temptation, view the full picture and back up our thoughts with facts. Before I continue my entry, I must confess that I do not consider president Obasanjo or any member of his administration a saint of the nation by any means. There is much he has not accomplished for the nation; in fact, many important things (some listed below). However, there are many things his leadership has accomplished.

Among these accomplishments (some of which are “firsts” in 26 years) are the fact that the administration:

1. Sanitized, re-militarized and restructured armed forces (2001-2003)

2. Successfully issued and managed privatization process (2001-2007)

3. Successfully nursed telecom industry growth (world's 4th largest growth)--300,000 lines to 27,000,000 lines in 5 years, 5 GSM licenses (2001-2007)

4. Raised minimum wage from N250/month ($1.96/mth) to N5,500/month ($43/mth) (2001)

5. Restored the implementation of the original Abuja plan (2004-2007)

6. Apprehended IG of Police (2004)

7. Restructured and recapitalized banking industry (2005)

8. Pension industry restructure and recapitalization (2006)

9. Insurance industry restructure and recapitalization (2006)

10.Reduced fake drugs import into Nigeria by over 60% (2001-2007)

11.Reduced inflation from 23% to 10.5%, in line with many of the BRIC nations (2000-2006)

12.Improved Nigeria's image among world leaders and major multi-national organizations (2000-2007)

12.Paid off $12b in foreign debt (2006)

13.Secured $18b debt retirement in exchange for $12b payoff (2006)

14.Avoided spending excess crude oil windfall to avoid inflation spike (2001-2007)

15.Increased fuel prices to balance supply and demand in market and reduce shortages (2002-2006)

16.Increased forex reserve from $18b to $43b (2000-2006)

17.Flooded the market with US dollars to reduce the demand for dollars and affectively reduce the Naira/$ exchange rate by 20 points over 18 months (2005-2006)

18. Reduced gap between blackmarket and CBN exchange rates to less than 0.5 points (2005-2006)

19. Re-established the relevance of forex bureaux (2006)

20. Re-established Nigeria's influence in Africa and strengthened Africa's cohesion through AU, NEPAD, ECOWAS (2001-2007)

21. Stopped regional wars in Sierra Leone, Liberia, and Cote D'Ivoire (2000-2006)

22. Apprehended and turned-over Charles Taylor to the International Courts (2005)

23. Repatriated some funds looted and domiciled in foreign accounts by past military dictators (2004)

24. Apprehended (with the help of Britain) governors proven to loot treasuries in Bayelsa and Plateau states (2005)

25. Played a role in war against terrorism but refused to include Nigeria in War Against Saddam (2001-2002)

26. Maintained consistent stance against Isreal regarding the Isreal-Palestinean conflict (2000-2007)

27. Was first president to airlift citizens in Lebanese/Isreali conflict (2006)

27. Reinvigorated the capital markets through the privatization, restructuring, and public offer of key industries (2005-2007)

28. Apprehended key corporate chiefs for money laundering, round tripping, creative bookkeeping, and fraud (2000-2006)

29. Was successfully re-elected with little violence (2003)

30. Encouraged states opportunity to craft and implement own growth agenda (2000-2007)

31. Privatized the power sector (2006)

32. Tackled 419 and corruption with EFCC (2004-2007)

33. Created and implemented new economic reforms including due-process which has frustrated many privileged contractors (2001-2007)

34. Removed Nigeria from the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) blacklist of most corrupt nations (2006)

35. Made balanced decisions in supporting PDP presidential/VP candidates (2006)

36. Soon to implement the first-ever civilian to civilian handover (2007)

37. Catalyzed African commitment to fighting AIDS/HIV, Tuberculosis, and other related infectious diseases through the Abuja Declaration on HIV/AIDS (2001)

38. Emphasized the role of women in the leadership and the polity of Nigeria (2000-2007)

39. Attracted the first positive and proactive statement in 26 years about Nigeria from the US Department of State (2006), a huge contrast to the unfair judgement of Nigerian people that US once levied in the late 90’s and 2000

There are probably more accomplishments, but I think these hit the major categories: macro-economy, privatization, financial security, international relations, regional peace, internal security.

But, of course, the accomplishments are not enough. Following are some ways in which the federal administration failed its people:

1. Inability to restructure the healthcare system

2. Inability to provide adequate power (privatization came too late)

3. Inability to maintain and re-new key federal highways

4. Inability to restructure and increase contribution to education (they are doing it but much too late)

5. Inability to repair and build fuel and gas production plants

6. Seeming insensitivity to the plight of the masses (encompassed in 1-5)

7. Inability to improve Nigeria's domestic and international “public” image

8. Attempted 3rd term

9. Did not resolve NFA issue thus making Nigeria miss its World Cup Berth and Nation's Cup victory

10. Did not find solution for micro-economic consequences of adjusting macro-economic environment

11. Did not find solution to the SMIEIS entrepreneurial funds (10% from banks’ IBT was to go to SME, yet many banks don’t use it to support SME’s but use it to support their own projects)

You could probably add more, and you're welcome to do so. True, had the administration accomplished 2 or 3 of these items, it would have made a significant impact on the lives of everyday Nigerians--power, and fuel production, for example. However, one must consider the many things the administration did accomplish and wonder where Nigeria would be without the those accomplishments. One must consider "Where was Nigeria, what was Nigeria, in 1999?". One must ask, “Whose
leadership has erected the foundation upon which our country’s future now seems perched?” or “Is it possible that the only thing the OBJ administration was meant to do was build a solid foundation for moving forward?”.

While it is important to highlight the administration’s failures, it’s also important to illuminate the failures of others who are
direct representatives of the people—774 local governments and 140 million people. Thus, one must consider the things that the state administrations and their cooperating senators and congressmen failed to do:

1. Establish private healthcare systems

2. Adequately fund and maintain state education

3. Maintain and repair state highways and streets

4. Establish viable alternative transportation options

If the direct representatives were able to achieve at the state level, perhaps that might bring succor to the people for some of the micro-economic hardships brought by the federal administration’s macro-economic policy maneuvers. How, for example, can Delta State receive N60b per year in allocations, yet not have an alternative transportation system, a health care system, digitized education, or an extensive road system. That's the richest state in our country!

It's very easy to be an "arm-chair quarterback or coach or politician or president" when you've got nothing to lose and you're
10,000 miles away sitting on your comfort chair and in front of your computer with an orange juice or a bottle of beer. But when you're in the trenches in a country as complex as Nigeria, a good metric of success is “how much further have you moved from where you were a couple of years before”. [for more on this see Gov. Abdullahi Adamu’s entry on “Crisis of Democracy”]

In that context, the OBJ administration has moved us forward, to an extent that we have traction as a nation. There is at
least something for the next set of leaders to build on and, in fact, what is most on the minds of Nigerians who live at home is "will the progress continue?".

It's really up to us to do our share in each of our spheres of influence to make measurable impact. And because the stakes are so high, we cannot afford to make empty, irresponsible, and unproductive comments. As educated and uneducated
people, we must make that difference. We just can’t afford to sit on the sidelines.

As my father says, if you can't add value, don't say a word. And before you say something, look both ways then give fair judgment [see “Poor OBJ…” by Frisky Larr].


Nam Mokwunye is a Reuters Digital Vision Fellow, in Stanford University, USA. He is the Founder/CEO of UDC. He is a member of The Afro Beat.

Wednesday, February 7, 2007

Party like Its 1999...

Okay we know this isn't a "party" in any sense (its a meeting of serious/intuitive minds) but the title stuck unfortunately. In keeping with the current theme i.e. 'leadership', and a review/critique of the outgoing President, we've decided to take us back to 1999 - To the sinking ship "Baba" was elected to captain.

We thought 1999 would be a good place to re-visit... to jog our memories, before we go on to introduce the pro-"Baba"/more patriotic articles that we intend to put up from tomorrow. The article below (written in 2000) doesn't tell us anything we don't already know, but it does remind us of the expectation and hope prevalent at the time, in a beaten-down and weary Nigeria.

In light of the perspective it offers therefore, and in light of what you remember feeling in 1999, is anyone willing to revise their comments from the past two days?


The Economist - 13th January 2000

Nigeria’s new president has made a promising start on repairing the damage done by his predecessors. But he has a mountainous task ahead of him, reports Robert Guest

The trouble with Nigeria is simply and squarely a failure of leadership. There is nothing basically wrong with the Nigerian character. There is nothing wrong with the Nigerian land or climate or water or air or anything else. The Nigerian problem is the unwillingness or inability of its leaders to rise to the responsibility, to the challenge of personal example which are the hallmarks of true leadership.

SO WROTE Chinua Achebe, a Nigerian novelist, in 1983. Between then and now, his gloomy book, “The Trouble with Nigeria”, has been perhaps the best short account available of how his native country worked—or rather, how it did not work. Ruled by soldiers for all but six years since 1966, Nigeria has suffered one civil war, six violent changes of government, and the continual theft and squandering of public funds by its leaders. Blessed with fertile soil, floods of oil, and a huge, energetic, talented population, Nigeria should be Africa’s giant. That it is instead one of the poorest countries in the world is largely the fault of a succession of awful military dictators. But the sudden death of the most recent and perhaps worst of them, Sani Abacha, has given Nigeria a chance to recover.

General Abacha, who seized power in 1993, died of a heart attack in June 1998. An interim government led by General Abdulsalami Abubakar promised to restore democracy in stages, with elections first for local governments, then for state governments, then for a national assembly and for the presidency itself. To many people’s surprise, he kept his word. The elections were marred by bribery—of which all parties were guilty—but the result is widely agreed to reflect the will of the Nigerian people. On May 29th 1999, Olusegun Obasanjo, a 62-year-old chicken farmer, was sworn in as Nigeria’s first democratically elected president since the toppling of Shehu Shagari in 1983.

The challenge facing Mr Obasanjo is daunting. His country is poor, indebted and riven by ethnic violence (which left 100 people dead in Lagos at the end of November). The roads are pitted with potholes and clogged with rubbish. Telephone and power lines work intermittently at best, and often not at all. Factories are idle. So, resentfully, are millions of urban youths. After a long spell of crude despotism, Nigeria has no tradition of democracy, nor of effective governance. For as long as most Nigerians can remember, the rewards for honesty and industry have been miserable, whereas corruption has paid magnificently. Nigeria had become “the open sore of a continent”, in the words of Wole Soyinka, the country’s 1986 Nobel laureate for literature.

Wanted: True Leadership

Seven months after assuming power, Mr Obasanjo is hard at work applying ointment to that sore. He has some useful qualifications. First, although he was once Nigeria’s military ruler, he was not personally corrupt, and had landed the top job more by chance than by design. In 1976, after the assassination of the then ruler, Murtala Mohammed, Mr Obasanjo, as his deputy, took over. He stayed in office long enough to organise elections, and in 1979 handed over power to an elected civilian. It was not Mr Obasanjo’s fault that this civilian regime was corrupt, and was soon swept away in a coup.

This time he has a mandate to keep Nigeria democratic. To this end, he has subdued the military. More than 100 officers with links to the old regime have been retired, and non-political soldiers have been put in charge of the army. Some of those close to Abacha, including his son, are being prosecuted for an array of alleged crimes, including murder. Efforts to recover some of the money that the late dictator and his cronies stole have produced a haul of over $700m. There may be more to come.

Ordinary Nigerians, fed up with being robbed and bullied by their leaders, would probably like to see harsh punishments for the old regime, but Mr Obasanjo, a former political prisoner himself (he served three years of a 15-year sentence for allegedly plotting a coup against Abacha before the tyrant’s death set him free), is inclined to be gentle. Indeed, Nigeria today is a far less fearful place than it was a couple of years ago. General Abubakar began the good work by releasing political prisoners and stopping the security forces from harassing dissidents. Mr Obasanjo has continued in that vein (although his use of the army to crack down on terrorism in the Niger delta has recently caused concern). Journalists at Nigeria’s dozens of lively, opinionated newspapers, who once risked being roughed up or worse by the security forces, now work unmolested.

On the economy, too, Mr Obasanjo has made a reasonable start. He claims to have abandoned the statist philosophy he espoused in the 1970s, and to have embraced the market. He has relaxed exchange controls and promised to privatise, deregulate and fight corruption. For the first time in decades, there is a feeling of optimism in the air. Now that the country is no longer a pariah, America and Europe have pledged more aid. There is talk of debt relief in the future, and perhaps even a bit of foreign investment. For the Nigerian in the street, the most visible change is the easy availability of petrol. Under Abacha, pumps ran dry and the president’s friends made fortunes cornering supplies at the low official price and selling them at the much higher black-market rate. Day-long queues formed outside petrol stations. For the citizens of one of the world’s largest oil-producing countries, not being able to buy fuel was perhaps the worst humiliation. Mr Obasanjo all but ended it with a few honest appointments.

Mr Obasanjo comes closer than any of Nigeria’s recent presidents to providing the “true leadership” Mr Achebe called for. But his predecessors left Nigeria so horribly broken that it will take a lot of time and skill to mend it.

The Economist

Below is a documentary by The Nigerian Patriots. At 50 minutes plus, watching the entire thing would understandably be difficult. The documentary itself doesn't actually fit in with the theme of this post, however the first 2 minutes does - Watch that!

Tuesday, February 6, 2007

The "Drunken Blunder" towards the Future

The following has been extracted from "The Sad Story of Nigeria" by Reuben Abati, in which he highlights the potentially damaging effects of the current nonchalant attitude to 2007's elections.
Is this a fair depiction of the attitude to the elections generally amongst Nigerians? As with yesterday's article, is it possible that the good accomplished by the outgoing administration has been overlooked?


"The Sad Story of Nigeria" By Reuben Abati

It seems to me that as the Obasanjo government begins to wind up (I hope it is winding up) and as we prepare for the next elections ( I want to assume that we are preparing!), what we need is a kind of reality check. We, the people must begin to ask the hard questions about our lives. There are no easy answers, though. Our life as Nigerians is one long interim report, there is also no lack of knowledge about our problems, but the questions must be examined again and again. How for example does the world see us? What are the strengths that we possess, the weaknesses that tie us down? Are we serious at all? Do we know where we are going? Have we learnt any lessons? What do we have that we can leverage to achieve greater possibilities? When outsiders visit our country what do they see? What insights do we gain from an aesthetic distance and emotional memory?

Unfortunately, no auditing process is going on. Nigeria is about to turn a new page in its history (transition from one government to the other, the end of the Obasanjo era...); you would ordinarily expect that this would require careful planning and collective reflection, but oh no, the entire country is blundering towards that future, the election is taken as yet another festival, and like drunken sailors at a feast, there is so much ribaldry, cat-calls, rivalry and no meaningful stock-taking. If care is not taken, President Obasanjo will leave Nigeria in as much a confused state as he met it in 1999.

No country can make progress without its people. It is regrettable that we have spent eight years of democratic rule without placing the people at the centre of the reform process. Nigeria's greatest asset is its human capital but it is also its greatest burden. Nigerians are gifted, they have boundless energy, they want to do things, they love freedom, they want to express themselves; they are assertive, boisterous and ambitious. But like people in all societies, they need to be managed, their energies need to be channeled constructively; they need heroes who can define a vision for the community and a mission for the populace. We are a nation in search of such heroes. This is why every Nigerian is a product of self-help. Too many people are living in personal countries of their own, and so they belong only to the empire of the self. They are not part of any social process of agglomeration or aggregation. We cannot continue to have a country in which people prosper in spite of the country. Every country that has made progress began the process by developing its people: through education, through mission statements, through a sense of nationalism. What is the legacy of the past eight years: the thinking that the people do not matter; the belief that every man is on his own, the conviction that you should not expect government to do anything for you because the people in government are only interested in themselves; the widespread conclusion that government is irrelevant to the people's lives. If democracy must serve our purpose, the cynicism of the people must be brought to an end through due recognition of their relevance to the development process. Who will do this? Will this result from an evolutionary or a revolutionary intervention? Candidly, I do not know.


Reuben Abati is Chairman of the Editorial Board of The Guardian Newspaper. Since 1999 he has written two weekly columns in The Guardian and is now one of the most prolific and respected newspaper columnists in Nigeria today.

The full article can be found at The Nigerian Village Square or at the NAS websites.

Monday, February 5, 2007

"What is Babaism?" by Ibiyinka Solarin

In this article, Ibiyinka Solarin, in a rather sophisticated manner, bemoans the methodology and eccentricities (for want of a better term), of the Nigerian President. Clever though it is, to what extent is this article a constructive critique of the outgoing President, if at all?

BABAISM is the Nigerian contribution to political thought and praxis in the 21st century. Babaism is not predicated on any highly formalised, carefully reasoned body of thought. Its essential core is captured in the title of the American sit-com, 'Father knows best.' It is also not based on an aggregate body of rules, processes, and procedures. It derives its practice from the whims and caprices of the Baba. It is totally unpredictable for that same reason.

Since there are no rules except the pronouncements of the Baba, to whom many are materially beholden, even adults older than the Baba grovel. One of the provincial captains of the Baba put it this way, 'in the system we practice here in (Babadom), the Baba is next to God... everything else is secondary, one has to know how to behave.'

It ought to be stated here, that it is NOT that there are no codified rules, it is just that Baba does not believe in any rule except the one he makes or the ones that suit him or his designs. The subjects of our imperial personage humour him, by suggesting that he had, in the past, had a professionally regimented life, for two decades to be precise. If that were the case, what does one make of those who lived this life for almost four decades? Baba considers codified rules, at best, a nuisance and inconvenience, to his uniquely divine wisdom. Baba is both impetuous and imperious, a la 'l' etat, c'est moi' .

Baba is likely to erupt in tantrums even in public, out of provocation, and many defer to him out of respect for his position as Baba. Such is the level of deficit in refinement. But, Baba considers himself, the elect of God, not realising that the deference is to THE position and NOT the person. Baba's situation is made worse because many unfortunately grovel at his feet, for lucre, patronage and favours because of the unique pyramidal structure of Babadom. This of course only fuels Baba's bloated self.

Baba is both petulant and knowing, given to fits of temper, such that the craven coterie of aides and hangers-on that surround him, deem it fit not to cross him or dare suggest an alternative point of view. Indeed they cross him at their peril. Baba knows all, even in matters in which he is patently untutored. Since Baba is of the mind that rules are not made for him, he is given to arbitrary and capricious pronouncement, since legality and constitutionalism seem to be beyond his ken. His subjects are often confounded and amused when out of evident embarrassment the Baba turns around, flailing, looking for rule-based decisions. Not that it matters, since Baba sees himself or his designs as not bound by rules.

To Baba, being right, and being self-righteous are the same thing. Naturally, he is given to preachments and sermons, such that his subjects are drowning in this sea of bombast periodically dished out by our personage. Baba has, in the face of damning dismal reality of his polity, created his own reality, sustained and reinforced by members of his amen corner. Baba's subjects are exhorted to disbelieve the dismal and deteriorating socio-economic realities of their lives, the want, the poverty, the personal and communal insecurities, the impassable road network, the erratic and often non-existing power supply, conditions unameliorated for eight years, in he face of unprecedented earnings. You might just wonder how Baba attained this dizzying height? Well, Baba himself provided that answer in commenting on one of his provincial prefects. He, (the provincial prefect), was a mistake.

Of course, out of politeness, more than anything else, no one will tell Baba that he himself is a mistake, a mistake that has been foisted on his country for upwards of three decades. Mercifully, the countdown is on for Baba; the clock is about to run out. Sooner or later, in the fullness of time, the polity will rid itself of the likes of Baba. And the dawn of a new era of a flourishing liberal democracy based on constitutional accountability, transparency, unerringly on the rule of law and not that of man will be born. May that era come soon for this traumatised Babadom. Amen.


Professor Solarin lives in Tyler, Texas, United States.

The Afro Beat

The Afro Beat is a new movement, a fresh heartbeat, a racing pulse.

It is a club/ forum/ virtual gathering place for individuals of Nigerian heritage or association, who share the collective ambition to see their country move forward.

The Afro Beat is centered on the following:

  • The mutual and collective enlightenment of ourselves by discussion of our country’s plight,

  • The development of a sense of accountability to one’s peers,

  • The implementation of a series of realistic projects for the benefit of every Nigerian, and

  • The ultimate objective of improving the situation in Nigeria, one step at a time, and one day at a time.

    How The Afro Beat will be kept going:

    This idea was birthed by Misan and Tokini, but it is not “our” club alone. We’re offering ourselves up as mere facilitators. We desire the contribution of everyone who wants to learn more about their country, its past, and most importantly, about effective methods to contribute to its future. We’ve noticed a growing interest amongst our peers, in the injustices currently plaguing Nigeria, and simply wanted to provide a way for us to group together to share ideas on how to move the nation forward, and to have fun at the same time.

    We intend to start with the simplest things.

    First, we’ll begin by publishing articles on this blog, written by Nigerians and others, about Nigeria, that we hope you’ll be interested in. We’ll also publish articles by The Afro Beat’s members, to provoke discussion and commentary. We’re open to receiving anything you find on the world wide web or elsewhere, or that you yourself write, that you want to share with The Afro Beat’s members, and which you feel will be for their benefit. We hope to provide a worthwhile learning experience for us all, about our country.

    We’ll also be opening up discussion about the projects we would like The Afro Beat to be known for. We have several exciting ideas which we hope you’ll see potential in, and which we know would benefit immensely from your contribution and participation.

    Our address is:

    “Every sector of society has been left to fend for itself”
    - an observation about Nigeria by the Vanity Fair columnist, Sebastian Junger, in his article on the Niger-Delta entitled “Blood Oil”.

    If The Afro Beat works as we hope it will, no journalist will ever be able to make such a sweeping statement about Nigeria again.